Tithing Made Simple
At my life group gathering on Wednesday, we had a very interesting discussion on tithing. Having explained my biblical understanding of tithing, my group encouraged me to preach on this at church. I probably will when people come back from their holidays but I thought I might share briefly my understanding of tithing in this blog.
The principle of sacrifices and tithing existed in the ancient culture before it was included in the Mosaic Law. Tithing is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14: 17-20 where Abraham encounters Melchizadek, the king of Salem, and gives him a tithe of all his possessions. The first mention of tithe as law is in Leviticus 27:30-33 where a tithe of the livestock, grain, fruit, etc. was declared holy to the Lord and was to be given to Him. The purpose of the tithe is mentioned in Numbers 18: 20-32 and that is to support the Levitical priesthood since the tribe of Levi had no land or inheritance in the Promised Land. All the other tribes were given an inheritance. The tribe of Levi was set apart to offer worship to God on behalf of Israel. The tithes were to be brought into the place of worship so that God’s name is worshipped and remembered (Deuteronomy 12: 5-6, 11). As the Levites had no land to farm but were called to ensure the worship of God continues amongst God’s people, the rest of God’s people were called to support the Levites and the work of worship that they offer on their behalf. This Old Testament Law was part of the Old Covenant where God’s people were kept holy because they kept the principles of the law.
Jesus heralded in the New Covenant. Did the New Covenant replace the Old Covenant? Yes and No. Yes because the Old Covenant shows us how far we have fallen from God’s righteousness and makes us realise our need for a Saviour. However, the New Covenant does not replace the Old Covenant but fulfils it. The New Covenant did what the Old Covenant could not do and that is to give us God’s gift of righteousness through our faith in Jesus Christ. This enables us to fulfil the requirements of the Law. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5: 17). We now fulfil the principles of the law through a transformed heart rather than through human efforts.
Following on from this, Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9: 6-7). We often look at this verse and think that this means we don’t need to give a tithe but we decide what is the best amount to give. Yes that’s true. But Paul is actually encouraging generosity rather than holding back. Because our heart is transformed we give more than is expected of us and we decide to be generous and give more than just a tithe because that is what is expected of us.
If you were to read the Sermon on the Mount carefully, the New Covenant demands more from us. For example if you have anger in your heart, you have committed murder (Matthew 5: 21-24), or if you have lust in your heart, you have committed adultery (Matthew 5: 27-28). When Paul is writing about being generous, he is following a New Covenant principle of going way above the requirements of the Old Covenant. In other words, don’t stop at 10%. Decide in your heart what is God saying to you and give that amount cheerfully.
This principle of tithing has not ceased under the New Covenant. Just as Abraham offered a tithe as a form of worship and as Israel gave their tithes to support the worship of Yahweh, now the church as people of the New Covenant gives tithes so that we can fulfil God’s calling to be a people of worship and also reach out to others in order that worship is offered from every tribe and people in the world. Likewise, in the New Testament, Christians gave generously to meet the needs of people and to ensure that the church fulfilled the Great Commission of making disciples from every ethnic group (cf. Romans 12: 13; 1Corinthians 8; Hebrews 13: 16).
Today we tithe so that we can ensure that God’s Kingdom presence and worship will continue in the world we live in. Through our generous tithes and offerings, we can fulfil our calling to be salt and light in a broken world.